Legal responsibilities as a parent
Unless specified, this information relates only to England and Wales. If you live in Scotland, go to Parenting across Scotland for information and advice. If you live in Northern Ireland, go to NI direct.
Parental responsibility is the legal term for the duties a parent has to a child, including to:
- Provide a home for their child.
- Protect and maintain their child.
- Choose and provide for their child’s education.
- Agree to their child’s medical treatment.
- Name their child and agree to any change of the child’s name.
- Allow confidential information about the child to be disclosed.
All parents must support their children financially, even if they do not have legal parental responsibility. This could mean paying child maintenance.
A mother always has parental responsibility for her children.
A father has parental responsibility for his child if he was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.
Unmarried fathers are able to obtain parental responsibility for their children if they:
- marry the mother of the child;
- enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother;
- register, or re-register, the birth of their child jointly with the mother (this has been the case since 1 Dec 2003); or
- by applying to the courts for a parental responsibility order.
Other people may also have, or apply to the courts for, parental responsibility in certain circumstances, for example, if a court orders that the child should live with them.
Where can I go next?
Families need fathers - Parental responsibility
Families Need Fathers provides information and advice on parental responsibility issues.
Gingerbread - Parental responsibility rights and responsibilities
A factsheet explaining parental responsibility from Gingerbread.
Child Maintenance Options - Child maintenance and the law
An explanation of what the law says about children's rights and parents' responsibilities, from Child Maintenance Options.